Live Concert Photography: The Dream Syndicate with Peter Holsapple Combo and Stephen McCarthy at Mercury Lounge 5/16/19
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a lot about the Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate, and as you may recall the act, which is currently comprised of founding members Steve Wynn, an accomplished and critically applauded singer/songwriter, guitarist and solo artist and drummer Dennis Duck, along with bassist Mark Walton and guitarist Jason Victor, can trace its origins back to the early 80s when Wynn along with fellow Dream Syndicate founding member Kendra Smith and future True West members Russ Tolman and Gavin Blair founded and played in one of the area’s first new wave bands in the Davis, CA music scene, The Suspects. Wynn also recorded a single with another band, 15 Minutes, which included members of Alternate Learning.
After returning to his hometown, Wynn spent a brief stint of time rehearsing in another local band, Goat Deity with future Wednesday Week members, Kelly and Kristi Callan — and while with Goat Deity, Wynn met Karl Precoda, who had an answered an ad seeking a bassist. The two started a new band with Precoda switching to guitar. Wynn’s college pal and former bandmate Smith and Duck (Mehaffey), who was a member of Pasadena-based act Human Hands joined the band to complete The Dream Syndicate’s initial lineup. (Interestingly, as the story goes, Duck suggested the band’s name as a reference to Tony Conrad’s early 1960s New York-based experimental ensemble, best known as the Theatre of Eternal Music, which featured John Cale.)
With the release of their Paul B. Cutler-produced debut EP, The Dream Syndicate received attention locally for a sound influenced by The Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Television, complete with aggressively long, feedback-filled improvisations. The members of the band signed to Slash Records subsidiary Ruby Records, who released the band’s 1982 full-length debut, the attention-grabbing and influential Days of Wine and Roses. Rough Trade Records released their debut’s lead single “Tell Me When It’s Over” as the A-side of a UK EP, which included a live cover of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” that was released in early 1983. Smith left the band and joined David Roback in Opal — and she was replaced by David Provost.
Their Sandy Pearlman-produced sophomore effort Medicine Show was recorded and released through A&M Records in 1984 — and as a result of being on a major label, the band opened for R.E.M. and U2. Attempting to build on a growing profile, the members of the band released a five song EP This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album . . . Live!, which was noteworthy as it was the last recorded effort to feature Precoda, who left soon after to pursue a career in screenwriting — and it was the first to feature Mark Walton on bass. The EP’s commercial failure led to the band’s first breakup — although a temporary one. The band was then dropped by A&M Records after the label rejected the band’s demo for “Slide Away.”
During the band’s break up, Wynn along with Green on Red’s Dan Stuart wrote and recorded 10 songs with Duck and a number of other musicians, which was released by A&M Records in 1985 as Danny and Dusty’s The Lost Weekend. After the release of Lost Weekend, Wynn, Duck and Walton teamed up with Paul B. Cutler to form a then-newly reunited iteration of The Dream Syndicate that recorded two full-length studio albums — 1986’s Cutler-produced Out of the Grey and 1988’s Elliot Mazer-produced Ghost Stories. The band recorded a live album Live at Raji‘s which was recorded in 1988 before the release of Ghost Stories but released afterward.
The band broke up in 1989 — and a batch of previously unreleased material was released that included 3½ (The Lost Tapes: 1985-1988), a compilation of studio sessions and The Day Before Wine and Roses, a live KPFK radio session, recorded just before the release of the band’s applauded debut album were released. After the breakup, Walton went on to play bass in the Continental Drifters while Wynn went on to become an acclaimed singer/songwriter and solo artist with a reputation or restlessly exploring a variety of different styles while leading a number of different projects including Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, The Baseball Project and others.
Wynn led a reunited Dream Syndicate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their full-length debut that featured Walton, Duck and Jason Victor, Wynn’s longtime Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3 guitarist at an appearance at 2012’s Festival BAM in Barcelona Spain. The reunited band went on to play a handful of other live sets, including two 2013 Paisley Underground reunion shows that included The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade. September 2014 saw the band playing a handful of shows in which they played their first two albums in their complete entirety — and those shows marked the band’s first shows in the Southeast in almost 30 years. Between their first reunion show and 2017, the band played more than 50 shows together.
Anti-Records released the band’s fifth full-length album How Did I Find Myself Here in 2017, which featured a lineup of Wynn, Walton, Duck and Victor with keyboardist Chris Cacavas. Recorded at Montrose Studios, the album’s notable final track “Kendra’s Dream” featured vocals and lyrics from Kendra Smith. Building upon the growing attention around the reunited band, the members of The Dream Syndicate recorded three songs, which were included on the compilation 3 x 4, a collection of tracks that featured new material from their Paisley Underground counterparts, The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade with each of the four bands covering songs by the other bands.
Released last month through Anti-Records, the John Agnello and The Dream Syndicate co-produced These Times is the second full-length studio album since the band reunited, and the album’s material is a subtle yet noticeable departure for the band sonically. “When I was writing the songs for the new album I was pretty obsessed with Donuts by J-Dilla,” the band’s Steve Wynn explained. “I loved the way that he approached record making as a DJ, a crate-digger, a music fan wanting to lay out all of his favorite music, twist and turn the results until he made them into his own. I was messing around with step sequencers, drum machines, loops—anything to take me out of my usual way of writing and try to feel as though I was working on a compilation rather than ‘more of the same.’ You might not automatically put The Dream Syndicate and J-Dilla in the same sentence, but I hear that album when I hear our new one.” Additionally, Wynn also changed up his lyric writing process for the album — instead of the song’s sound being dictated by previously written lyrics, he wrote all the material’s lyrics after the band finished instrumental tracking, so that the lyrics were influenced by the sounds.
The members of The Dream Syndicate were on a tour through May and June and it included two New York area dates — May 16, 2019 and May 17, 2019 at the Mercury Lounge. I caught The Dream Syndicate on the first night of their two night run, and the first night featured a bill with the Peter Holsapple Combo and Stephen McCarthy. Check out photos from the show below.
Peter Holsapple is a Greenwich, CT-born, Winston-Salem, NC-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, best known as a co-founding member of the North Carolina-based jangle pop band The dBs. Interestingly, Holsapple can trace the origins of his career to when he first started playing in bands in 1964 — but professionally, he’s been at it since 1970, when his first professional band Rittenhouse Square, which featured Mitch Easter, his dBs co-founder and bandmate Chris Stamey and Bobby Locke released an album in 1972.
When Rittenhouse Square broke up, Holsapple joined future dBs drummer Will Rigby and several high school friends in Little Diesel, a proto-punk rock band that wrote and recored an album together No Lie that was initially released on twenty 8-track cartridges but was re-released through Telstar Records in 2006. With the members attending college, the band broke up but Holsapple continued writing and performing, eventually moving to New York from Memphis, where he joined the dBs — initially as a keyboardist. Holsapple quickly began submitting songs, playing guitar and taking up lead vocal duties alongside Stamey.
After The dBs broke up in 1988, Holsapple worked as a full-time auxiliary guitarist and keyboardist for R.E.M. during their Green Tour and he participated in the writing, development and recording of their 1991 multi-platinum selling, critically applauded Out of Time but he left due to rumored disputes over songwriting credits. He then worked with Hootie & the Blowfish.
Holsapple joined the Continental Drifters, a Los Angeles-based band that featured members of The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles and The Coswills, writing and recording three well-received albums an . EP of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson covers and several tribute album tracks, none of which translated into massive sales.
In 1991 Holsapple and Stamey reunited and recorded an album together, Mavericks and in 1997 he released his solo debut Out of My Way. Interestingly, the mid 00s found the Holsapple and Stamey reuniting for a handful of one-off, duo shows and the original dBs lineup reuniting for a handful of one-off reunion shows, which led to the dBs songwriting duo to write and record their second duo album together, 2009’s Here and Now — and to the first dBs album in 25 years and the first album with the original album in over 30 years, 2012’s Falling Off The Sky.
Since then, Holsapple has released his second solo album, 2018’s Game Day.
Stephen McCarthy is a Richmond, VA-born and-based singer/songwriter best known for being a member of Los Angeles-based Paisley Underground-era act The Long Ryders, an act that briefly included Steve Wynn, who left to start The Dream Syndicate. As the story goes, McCarthy, who at the time was a recent transplant to the area, joined the band after answering a “Musicians Wanted” ad in a free newspaper.
The band went through the first of a series of lineup changes before recording and releasing 1983’s 10-5-60 EP, which was produced by former Sparks guitarist and Beach Boys engineer Earle Mankey. The EP was so well-received that they went on to tour the States.
Eventually signing to Frontier Records, the band wrote and recorded their critically applauded Henry Lewy-produced full-length debut Native Sons. As a result of the album’s success, they found themselves on the cover NME and making a live appearance on BBC’s Whistle Test.
After touring across the States throughout much of 1984, the band went on to play sold-out tour dates across Europe — and interestingly, at the time, the band were second only to The Smiths on the alternative charts. The members of the band signed to Island Records, who released 1985’s State of Our Union, an album that was #1 on the College Radio/Alternative charts for four consecutive weeks; in fact, their charting track “Looking For Lewis & Clark” became the band’s signature song.
1986 saw continued international success and attention for The Long Ryders: they headlined a Barcelona Festival, playing in front of 100,000 people — and that show was broadcast live on Spanish national radio; the Toronto Daily Mail called them “the best thing to happen to roots rock since The Band;” in Italy, they played in old opera houses and they were raved about in the UK.
1987’s Ed Stasium-produced Two-Fisted Tales featured radio hit “I Want You Bad,” and they wound up touring with U2 during the North American leg of their Joshua Tree tour; but as soon as they were about to achieve greater mainstream success, the band split up. Since then, The Long Ryders have periodically reunited for a series of live shows but during that time the individual members of the band have been busy. In particular, McCarthy went on to lead his own band Walker Stories. He then teamed up with Wynn, and House of Freaks‘ Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott to form Gutterball before joining The Jayhawks. McCarthy has also had stints in Wilco, The Black Crowes, Slobberbone and others.
The members of The Long Ryders have since reunited again for Psychedelic Country Soul. Released earlier this year through Omnivore Recordings and Cherry Red Records, the album is the first batch of new Long Ryders material in over 30 years.